How Tourism Benefits the San Juan Islands

The San Juan Islands are among the most naturally spectacular places on the planet. And while the San Juan Islands Visitors Bureau's (SJIVB) primary job is to promote visitation, we do our best to balance visitor impacts by striving to attract thoughtful visitors and educate all to “tread lightly." These are among the many challenges of island-style responsible tourism marketing and management.

While tourism is a vital economic engine here, we realize it must be balanced with other small industries and opportunities to create a resilient, year-round economy. Each day, the SJIVB strives to balance four critical factors: 

1) Quality of our economy

2) Quality of resident life

3) Quality of our environment

4) Quality of our visitors' experiences

Since 1999, our mission has been, "To enhance the economic prosperity of San Juan County by promoting the San Juan Islands as a preferred, year-round travel destination, while respecting and sustaining the Islands' unique and diverse ecosystems, environment, lifestyles and cultures." 

We've had a Communications & Stewardship Manager on our staff since 2004.

How does tourism benefit San Juan County?

  • Travel and tourism is a major economic driver for our county. Visitors spent more than $236 million in San Juan County in 2019 and $162 million in 2020. Tourism also directly supports more than 1,655 jobs which translates to nearly $62.7 million in salaries and business owner income. (Sources: Tourism Economics, Dean Runyan Associates)
  • Visitors also pay taxes, which reduce residents' taxes. Taxes collected from visitors include sales and lodging tax. These taxes help support vital civil services, inside and outside the tourism sector. In 2019, tourism contributed $20.6 million in county taxes. 
  • Lodging tax, which is used to fund tourism marketing and management projects, also helps to keep our local non-profit organizations such as art and historical museums, and cultural and performing arts centers, open. Recipients of lodging tax funds have also historically included the San Juan County Fair, County Parks, San Juan Island Agricultural Guild, arts, literary and music events, farmers markets, film festivals, a salmon hatchery, and much more. 
  • These funds also have been used locally for Public Works to upgrade infrastructure for visitors and residents such as trails and parking lots.
  • Lodging tax also supports shoulder and quiet season advertising campaigns which extend the window in which visitors come, making year-round jobs more viable in more than just the tourism sector.

How does tourism benefit businesses other than hotels, restaurants and attractions?

Many businesses throughout the San Juans benefit from a balance of customers that include both residents and visitors. These include retail shops and boutiques, bookstores, grocery stores, entertainment venues, transportation providers, and more. Likewise, employees in the tourism industry use their wages to make purchases throughout the islands for food, goods, and services. Even though a business may not think of itself as benefiting from tourism, the indirect benefits of tourism impact nearly every type of business in our islands, from graphic design artists and web designers to electricians, plumbers and landscapers.

What about the hidden costs that tourism has on local infrastructure, essential services, and the environment?

Visitors use much of the same infrastructure and services that residents use, including roads, airports, police/fire protection, medical services, etc. No doubt, a growing tourism industry requires adequate investment and maintenance of our local infrastructure and public services. Taxes paid by tourists help pay for sidewalks, parking lots, restrooms, etc. The positive impact of tourism on infrastructure and public services benefits everyone -- residents, visitors, and businesses.

What kinds of jobs does tourism generate?

Tourism is accountable for over 1,600 jobs locally. These jobs range from servers and bartenders, park rangers and tour guides, to owners and managers. Visitor dollars support and sustain an overlooked corps of park service professionals, small business owners, medical professionals, legal professionals, insurance agents, bankers and service professionals such as contractors, plumbers and electricians -- all play an integral role in our economy and community. 

Why should public funds be used to promote tourism?

  • The funding used to promote tourism in San Juan County is collected from visitors who overnight here, not residents. Although it is considered public funding, it doesn’t come from residents' taxes and yet residents greatly benefit from the parks, museums and cultural centers which receive “public” lodging taxes. Washington State law strictly limits the use of lodging tax. (RCW 67.28.180)
  • Destination marketing and management organizations, such as the San Juan Islands Visitors Bureau, exist to create interest in visiting an area. Once the interest in visiting in a responsible way is established, individual businesses may more effectively market their own business. This public/private funding model of tourism promotion is quite common in towns, cities, counties, states and countries around the world.

With all the beautiful parks, beaches and free things to do in the Islands, why do we have to promote tourism? Wouldn't people come anyway?

  • The San Juan Islands are fortunate to be home to an exceptional mix of natural environments, amenities and attractions. We are a renowned destination for hiking, biking, kayaking and whale watching enthusiasts. And while most visitors who choose to vacation here rank nature and wildlife as a big draw, our research confirms that the diverse non-nature amenities -- restaurants, galleries, cultural venues, boutiques, museums and variety of lodgings, etc. -- are also what makes the Islands so popular and diverse.
  • Research has shown that when you stop promoting a destination, its economy quickly feels the impact. The destination loses market share to competing destinations with healthy marketing budgets. This happened to Washington State when it closed its state tourism office from 2011 to 2018, and to Colorado years earlier.
  • Without the promotion of these Islands and amenities, we cannot compete for tourism dollars that help to sustain businesses, create jobs, and support vital civil services in the San Juan Islands. 

Questions or comments?

Please contact:  Deborah Hoskinson, Executive/Marketing Director, or 360-378-3277 ext. 5.

About the San Juan Islands Visitors Bureau

Learn more about the San Juan Islands Visitors Bureau, meet the team, and read about our Destination Marketing and Management efforts.

2022 Annual Report

Read our 2022 Annual Report which highlights our work in balancing the four pillars of the San Juan Islands. 

Visitors Bureau Membership

We are a membership organization and currently serve approximately 275 members on all four islands.  

Contact Us:
San Juan Islands Visitors Bureau
1-888-468-3701 | (360) 378-9551
P.O. Box 1330, Friday Harbor, Washington 98250
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